on the problems of masculinity: how lack of emotional awareness is connected to impoverished decision making20 Dec 2017
this 2nd part of this two-part post on the problems of masculinity is about connection between emotions as necessary for decisions and patriarchal masculinity as the dominant decision making paradigm in the us.
in the previous part of this, i discussed how masculinity, defined incorrectly, shuts of parts of people from themselves. when masculinity is defined in opposition to vulnerability, the more detached you are from your vulnerable parts, from your feelings, the more masculine you are. this learned separation eventually allows men and folks who are more masculine that not to operate and move through the world without access to their emotions.
why does that matter for decision making?
well, on the episode of on being with… well i can’t actually remember or find the episode, but know it happened… anyway, there was a famous psychological case is discussed where someone loses the part of the brain that handles emotion. one of the most surprising impacts of that loss was the loss of ability to make decisions. this study lead to the eventual insight that all decisions are connected to our emotions.
sidenote: though i couldn’t remember the original place i heard this, i did find this other blog post that references the same research:
A few years ago, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio made a groundbreaking discovery. He studied people with damage in the part of the brain where emotions are generated. He found that they seemed normal, except that they were not able to feel emotions. But they all had something peculiar in common: they couldn’t make decisions. They could describe what they should be doing in logical terms, yet they found it very difficult to make even simple decisions, such as what to eat. Many decisions have pros and cons on both sides—shall I have the chicken or the turkey? With no rational way to decide, these test subjects were unable to arrive at a decision.
i can’t remember all the details, but essentially, what i remember is that without any access to emotions, the person wasn’t able to make clear decisions because they couldn’t “pull the trigger” on one option versus another. the insights developed over time essentially pointed to the reality that, even though our brain might create rational frameworks for weighing options against each other, the final decision comes down to how we feel about one option over another.
in a sense, this psychological, science-based research turned a lot of thought about human rationality on its head.
so, back to masculinity. in my mind, this research makes glaringly clear a really important reality: when people are out of touch with their emotions, their decision making capacity is diminished. when you are out of touch with your emotions, you actually aren’t able to make the best decisions. you’re operating with only partial information.
as i think about this carried out to the societal scale, the rammifications are startling. most of the country’s decision making infrastructure was created and is operated by men. these men (myself included) are trained, shaped, and applauded for their lack of emotional depth and vulnerability. how diminished is our society because of this? can we ever know?
this, i think, could be used as an argument for more equal gender representation in our political and cultural decision making structures. but that’s not actally the most powerful point. to me, what’s more powerful is the fact that we actually need new decision making frameworks that support decisions being made with access to all of our humanness.
this is yet another reason why putting marginalized people in the seats of old systems doesn’t substantively change the outcomes of the systems.
anyways, i could keep rambling, but i’ll stop for now. patriarchal masculinity creates for conditions that make it nearly impossible to make good decisions. in my mind, this fundamental construction about rationality underpins the shift towards “data-driven” everything. of course, that’s not to say that data is useless. i fucking love generating my own data and then making decisions based on it. but the thing to be aware of is, as in all things, balance. how is the data being balanced with experiential, embodied wisdom? with feelings? with emotions? when a decision “makes sense” but feels terrible, shouldn’t that be a huge flag? and yet, it’s not. so dumb.
ok. done for now.
ps - this makes me want to go back and reread the section in emergent strategy about consensus as an ancient (r)evolutionary decision making framework…
words / writing / post-processing
593w / 20min / 10min